Microsoft late Monday announced a major new initiative to offer television shows and movie downloads via its Xbox Live service, further transitioning the Xbox 360 from video game console to consumer home entertainment device.
The new service, dubbed Xbox Live Video, will launch on November 22 - the one year anniversary of the Xbox 360's launch. Initial content partners include CBS, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, TBS, UFC, and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
Setting it apart from similar offerings, including Apple's ITunes, Xbox Live Video will support high-definition TV shows and movies. At launch, Microsoft plans to feature 200 hours of HD content and 800 hours of standard-definition content.
Purchased television shows will be owned by the customer, while the movies are supplied on a rental basis and will expire after 24 hours. TV shows can be downloaded an unlimited number of times, and are not tied to a specific console, meaning they can be played using any Xbox 360.
"This groundbreaking announcement is a win for everyone," said Peter Moore, corporate vice president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. "It connects our partners with one of the most coveted audiences in entertainment today, and provides even greater value to our Xbox Live community, allowing them to enjoy the games and entertainment they want, when they want it."
According to Microsoft, all purchases will be downloaded -- not streamed -- and HD content will be encoded using the company's VC-1 codec in 720p, 6.8Mbps video with 5.1 surround sound.
Because HD movies will take up nearly 5GB of storage space and television shows over 2GB, Microsoft is planning to begin selling an larger removable hard drive add-on for the Xbox 360. The company was previously rumored to be readying a 100GB hard drive, which it referenced at the X06 conference in Korea.
Microsoft has not yet disclosed pricing for the downloads, but Xbox Live Video is expected to be competitive with other such services.
JupiterResearch vice president Michael Gartenberg says that although games will still be the primary focus of the Xbox 360, video downloads do open a new avenue for adding market share and better competing with the likes of Sony and Apple.
"It's not a direct competitor to iTunes for now," Gartenberg remarked. "But, there's no doubt that XBox, as a conncted device that's hooked up a to the TV will be important for Microsoft as a core endpoint in the digital home. Look for larger drive capacities as well as integration with Zune and the PC in the not too distant future."